THE proposal to build more than 460 new homes on Old Sarum airfield is being discussed again at a public inquiry three years after planning permission was originally sought.

The decision to develop the land, made by the airfield’s operators, was faced with strong public backlash, with more than 450 letters of objection sent in to Wiltshire Council, along with a 1,500-signature petition, and a Facebook protest group, SOS – Save Old Sarum, set up, gathering 1,100 members.

Salisbury City Council also opposed the scheme, as did Laverstock and Ford Parish Council and Winterbourne Parish Council.

Fears were expressed that development on such a scale would make continued flying impossible.

The presiding government inspector, Frances Mahoney, summarised the main issues to include: “Whether the proposal would preserve or enhance the character and appearance of Old Sarum Conservation Area, the Sarum Ancient Monument and Conservation Area, whether the proposal would adversely impact on the village of Ford, and whether the proposal would represent a hindrance to the free flow of traffic on the existing highway network”.

Other issues include the airfield’s other uses in its perimeter such as the target shooting range, and the effects on the biodiversity of the area.

At the start of the inquiry, Mr Hashi Mohamed, reading the opening statement on behalf of the council said: “Attempts to settle a statement of common ground appear to have stalled, despite much progress having been made in the early stages of the process.”

The airfield’s operators maintain that without the development, the site is not viable. Mr John Steel QC, speaking on behalf of the airfield’s operators, said: “The development as a whole is sustainable and would significantly increase the sustainability of both the site and the surrounding area as a whole too.”

He added: “In short, the outline proposals before this inquiry for high quality development to bring about significant enhancement to the Airfield and heritage assets, fully in accordance with policy.

“They have been well thought out, are presented in considerable detail and have been the subject of considerable consultation and discussion over many years.”

Throughout the week, evidence will be given by experts on conservation and heritage, urban design, landscape and visual matters, ecology, noise and viability.

The operators are looking to build more than 460 homes around the airfield, which is a conservation area and includes listed buildings, and to create what they called a ‘flying hub’ complete with a heritage centre, visitor centre, restaurant and new control tower.

The inquiry continues for the rest of this week at City Hall, and will also sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.